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Nikon D800E vs Nikon D800 — Which to Choose?

See my review of the Nikon D800 and review of the Nikon D800E.

I continue to get questions regarding the choice of the Nikon D800 vs D800E, so this blog piece expands my thought from July 22nd.

I’ve now had a few months to settle in with the Nikon D800E and Nikon D800, and my impressions are now well-formed.

D800E vs D800

First of all, the choice between the two cameras is not something to get worked up over; if you already have a D800, there is no serious reason to worry that you should have gotten a D800E. You will get very high quality results from either.

That said, I subscribe to the “make the best possible image in the camera” philosophy; meaning that “fixing it in post” is anathema to me. As such, I am using the D800E almost exclusively, because it makes an image that is less blurred (no anti-aliasing filter). I like that, at least on a conceptual level, even if the practical difference in detail between the D800E and D800 is all but nil when more sharpening is used for the D800.

And so the D800 has become a backup body and/or a body with an alternate lens. In the field I have found no negative issues with the D800E, and I like the lower level of sharpening the D800E requires, which accentuates noise less, since less sharpening is needed.

Mangled Live View

Second, the mangled Live View display in the D800 and D800E is a continuing irritation that makes me question the competence of the engineers who designed Live View operation (but see my tip on using D800/D800E Live View). In the field, it is a constant reminder that an otherwise great camera can have ugly warts that slow down efficient operation, impairing the ability to nail the focus.

Card issues with Lexar

Third, both Lexar SDXC and Compact Flash cards hate the D800E. All I have tried have failed, 2 of 3 permanently bricked, in the D800/D800E/Canon 5DM3, the 1000X CF card being brand-new. Is there a D800/D800E bug there? Something that destroys Lexar cards? No problems with SanDisk cards.

Megapixels rule, and not just for detail

Fourth, the megapixel doubters are in gross error. It is my conclusion with extensive use now that the D800 / D800E cross a threshold that makes every image look better. Whether its downsampling or cropping or retouching image details or simply the lifelike results that come with more pixels (not about detail per se!), the D800/D800E images offer an unprecedented versatility and sense of realism that I have never seen before in a DSLR. This cannot be properly understood by someone still shooting a lesser DSLR. It is not something you can read about. You have to shoot the D800 or D800E yourself for a few weeks at least for it to really sink in.

What’s missing

Now what do I want? I want a real pro-grade body with right proper Live View, e.g., a D4x with the D800E sensor, but preferably a 60-megapixel version.

Why? I am convinced that the future of DSLR digital is a 60-100 megapixel camera because of the image quality, e.g., oversampling for a non-digital look (not necessarily megapixels for detail’s sake). The D800/D800E have whetted my appetite for what is really possible. I am also persuaded that from here on in, the anti-aliasing filter is a relic, and should not be installed in any future camera with higher resolving power.

Tree forced to brush on granite outcrop
Nikon D800E + Zeiss 15mm f/2.8 Distagon @ f/2.8

By the way, the D3x is still a good camera.

Ferns on Purissima Creek
Nikon D3x + Zeiss 15mm f/2.8 Distagon @ f/11
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